Let’s have an honest conversation about Huawei

Internet Governance Project

  1. Huawei steals intellectual property
  2. Huawei is inseparable from and a tool of the Chinese government

Huawei and cybersecurity

The U.S. argues that the presence of Huawei equipment or software in a 5G network means that the entire system is compromised. Mistrust of China and opposition to its authoritarianism is projected onto Huawei equipment. Professor Healey takes this line of thinking to new heights of fantasy. Perhaps, he muses,

Asian copycats?

The second part of the litany is that Huawei steals intellectual property. Here we find a familiar mix of exaggeration and hypocrisy. Claims about Huawei are not differentiated from any and every form of Chinese IPR copying that ever took place in history. So “China steals IPR” slides into “Huawei steals IPR” which becomes “Huawei has no original technology and its equipment is only competitive because they copied it from us.”

Huawei is an agent of the Chinese state

The anti-Huawei litany only makes sense when one realizes that the Chinese state, not a global telecommunication equipment manufacturer based in China, is the target of this attack. This is not really about cybersecurity or intellectual property or unfair trading practices, it is about America’s fear that it is being eclipsed by China.

Confused tactics

This mix of strategic objectives with economic policy leads to very confused tactics. Competition in technology goods and services is quite different from military and strategic competition. One is positive sum, the other zero sum. Policies that promote economic success cannot be based on a punitive military conflict logic. This is why US policy is so irretrievably botched. Some actors, e.g. Trump himself, are merely confused, opportunistic protectionists; others are focused purveyors of a U.S.- China cold war, and believe that we need to cripple Huawei to diminish China’s power whatever the economic consequences.

Favored national technology companies?

But it gets worse. A recent paper released by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) attacks China for providing “financial support and political backing” to “favored national technology companies.” And the response they recommend is… for the United States to provide financial support and political backing to favored national technology companies. CNAS calls for the creation of a “Digital Development Fund” (DDF) that would subsidize information connectivity projects in the developing world. CNAS rather openly calls for the DDF to prioritize projects “of strategic importance to the United States.” In the words of CNAS:

Trading with an authoritarian state

Trade in ICT goods and services does not have to mean that we support the other country’s political system. Indeed, while convergence between Chinese authoritarianism and American liberal democracy will not happen, the communication and interdependence fostered by trade certainly makes relations between the two societies more peaceful and beneficial. The confrontation and decoupling promoted by the American China hawks will only make China more insecure and more authoritarian.


At its heart, the anti-Huawei campaign is a fraud. It is being sold to us as part of the trade war or as a strike for cybersecurity, but it is really part of a military-strategic cold war strategy that most Americans would reject if it were presented to them honestly. Technology and trade are being used as pawns. Mike Pompeo, Marco Rubio, Mike Rogers and others pushing this campaign are not trying to achieve fair trade, a more secure cyberspace and a prosperous America; they are after confrontation and a backwards-looking attempt to achieve the kind of global military and communications supremacy we had in the 1990s. In their mindset dominance cannot be shared, so they see China as an obstacle to their plans. They have singled out Huawei for more than a decade, not because it is an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party, but because it is a successful global enterprise and its dependence on a globalized economy makes it vulnerable to attack. If China did the same thing to Apple or Microsoft we would be furious. If we keep going down the tech nationalist path, we may well get to that point.

Professor, Researcher on information and communnication technology policy, cybersecurity, Internet governance

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store